Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Uniforms

I forgot to post something very important last week.


Which is April 23rd was Kira’s Birthday!!!!

Kira and I like to take pictures like this.




And we’ve done so in, I think, five countries and at least twice as many cities. Usually we look the same but sometimes we have better tans or darker hair.



I am sometimes afraid that the older I get the less likely I will make new friends. But even though Kira and I only met less than two years ago, I feel like we’ve gone through life together. It’s just one a’ those things. Kira can run faster than you and she’s probably stronger than you. She can pack for vacation in five and a half minutes. She has the best sense of humour in the WORLD. If you want to try something crazy, she will probably do it with you. And a lot of times strangers stop her on the street to tell her how beautiful her smile is. And also, when she gets home from work she puts on a blue fleece hoodie and grey sweatpants almost every day. That is her uniform. I am a big fan of at-home uniforms. I miss her like crazy and she is COMING TO NEW YORK on June 18th.

Before Kira and I lived together, I was never a big exerciser. But she is a runner. And she started bringing (dragging) me with her to Villa Pamphili park. We’d walk up the path together and then plug in our ipods, then Kira would take off in a cloud of dust and I’d chug along behind her, around the lake and through the park at the top of the city, and then she’d always be waiting when I finished the loop, and sometimes we’d sit on the bench for a while and watch the Italian running clubs in their spectacular spandex or the old men playing cards—sometimes we got caught in the rain and usually people would edge away from us on the tram because we were sweaty and gross.

Elena a character in TINE takes a lot of inspiration from Kira—mostly in her strength and magnetism. Sometimes I feel so full of gratitude for the amazing people in my life. Especially the ones who love uniforms.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Because there was no school today

Because I'm about six hours from being done with my revisions on PERMANENT INK.

And because today I wrote 4000 words on THERE IS NO HAPPY ENDING (lets call it TINE for now) and I'm unstoppable.

Because Rory, the main character in TINE looks out at this from her window.



Because I just feel like sharing, here's the first page.


It is hard to figure out when Jacob disappeared because, before the last time, he disappeared so often.

In Rome they will keep grieving him. On Via Nazionale, where his parents live, they’ll grieve him with friends and co-workers from the Embassy, but then the grief will become quieter and eventually they’ll move back to the house in Virginia where there is little to remind them of him.

In Trastevere they’ll whisper about him and hold on to each others’ hands when they see his work underneath a bridge or in a doorway. When Jacob was gone the doorways of Trastevere stood quiet and blank. He wasn’t sauntering side streets with his can of spray paint and a crooked cigarette burning in his small fingers. That was how they noticed at first and then they noticed all of the bridges and steps and bars and piazzas where he wasn’t.

In Los Angeles, where he never was, everything makes Rory grieve him.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

I just got the most amazing phone call.

One of my students—a charming, lyrical, funny, curious activist—has been accepted to Bard. This is huge for so many reasons. First of all—I went to Bard and many mixed feelings aside, or considered, it is an incredible place that offers a realm of intellectual experience I had never even considered. And it’s a lot of fun. We never said so then, but it’s like growing up in the country, you have beautiful fields and old houses and a lot of time for creativity. I love Bard. And I am so proud of him. And it is pretty exciting to share this experience.

And the best part is that thirteen years ago on Earth Day I took Amtrak about an hour and a half south from Albany to Rhinecliff, New York and—dressed in my ubiquitous Birkenstocks and homemade sundress, I found myself on the Bard College campus for Accepted Students day. I was lingering, teetering between two worlds—between high school and college and spring and summer and kid-life and grown-up life. While Bard was not my first choice, and I was crabby and hesitant (and painfully shy) upon being there, I couldn’t help but be a little seduced by the bongo-playing boys in patch-work pants and the hand-painted earth day banners and vegan desserts for sale and sunshine-y campus. But I still wasn’t convinced.

And then I met Nicole. I can’t remember how we met exactly, but I do remember we quickly agreed to skip all required activities, take off our shoes and spend the day sitting in the sunken garden at the Hudson river’s edge, learning each others’ history and planning our futures. I still have the journal I carried that year, covered in a faded floral fabric, a page inside bearing a list of book recommendations from Nicole. A sampling

The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda
The Doors of Perception by Alduous Huxley

Yes, I read them both. Today Nicole is married to Mike, who she’d meet in the first few days of our freshman year and they have two amazing sons, Julian and Kai, who are the first Bard kids in our lives.

This time of year is so amazing. It always hearkens back to the last few weeks of senior year in high school. Your exams are over. You’re thinking about college. You’re trying not to say goodbye while trying not to move forward too fast. You’re lying in the grass and your skin is turning pink and everything is so possible. I have to say those days look so strangely blurry now. I might need to read a little Castaneda. Um. Or at least look at some photo albums.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Something Else

I can’t stop thinking about the Florida girls. And last night I wrote this long, desperate, wondering post. But then I decided I had to breathe. I don’t know what I think and none of this is going away so I decided I needed to focus on something else.

And I finished this story I’ve been writing. It’s called ‘This Place I Don’t Call Home’. And two things were so strange. 1. to go back to the format of a short story, which asks you to do so many things differently than you would do for a novel and 2. to write for a different audience is, well, different. I find myself thinking in teen most of the time but this story has a different kind of voice and a different need. It is about adults facing a very small moment that means something bigger than what they see. But what I realized—the characters have the same kind of sadness as my teenage characters.

I wonder what that means.

The other thing is that I miss Italy desperately. Especially in the spring. Most of the story is set here.



And from my dim early morning Brooklyn apartment it is hard to believe that I spent two years going places like this for the weekend. Eating fresh pears on sea-smelling terraces and swimming in April off a Capri beach and learning to slice the skeleton out of a whole fresh fish in one swift motion, eating on a tiled terrace that hung out over the sea, taking night-time ferries to ancient towns and sleeping with our windows open.

Sometimes I get so afraid I’ll forget these things.

So here is a little bit of the story—so I don’t forget.



She remembers the day, one or a dozen days, when she came home from somewhere late at night—boarding school or college or a faraway job—and it was a black winter outside, the light from the sunroom emanated warmth and from the doorway, dropping duffel bags and kicking the snow from her boots, she could see her mom at the bright kitchen counter, framed by the funny faded gingham wallpaper… peeling apples or stirring spinach soup. She was always so hungry in that house—because she knew she could eat and it would taste like something she remembered.

After breakfast, after everyone is awake and dressed and has drank their coffee and watched the sea and the beach and piazza below them fill with families and busses of tourists, they begin their hike to Ravello. At first they ascend through the town—tourist shops boasting bottles of limoncello and loud t-shirts bearing bubble-lettered Italian phrases and even a tiny ceramic Amalfi built into the hillside—after all of this they truly start to ascend. They are climbing a steep hillside, rocky and wet and winding. Spring is bursting in green shoots and white and yellow blossoms. In some places there are steps and paths built of stones, in some places they duck under the green nets spread wide to catch falling lemons and through the backyard orchards of houses built into the hillside. At one turn they are shuffling through a sun-baked path hung with brass pots, scarecrow dolls and dried chicken feet.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A new kind of violence, a new kind of conversation

Last night I was sitting in my office; it was near the end of the night and I was getting ready to go home and I hadn’t seen a student in about half an hour, so I was scrolling through the news. My eye caught a headline that said something like “Teens charged in Youtube beating”. I clicked. I felt sick.

I’m not sure what I want to say about this—other than the fact that I feel shocked and a little bit nauseated and then simply na├»ve. I have worked in high schools since 2001 and I can’t imagine the girls I know exhibiting this kind of behavior. But then I stop myself—can I? I literally feel dizzy when I look at stills from this video taped in a Florida home, which is why I haven’t posted a link here. Because by viewing this video, are we sensationalizing a deeply personal and hurtful experience? Are we contributing to undue fame and recognition for teenagers who have committed a heinous and unbelievable act? Does talking about these things—even writing on this blog—contribute to such events as a videotaped beating of a girl by her peers? I don’t have an answer but there is an underground culture of violence and hunger for recognition that is getting stronger and stronger and that we as a community have a responsibility to combat. I have written about bullying for years—first as a student pursuing my M.A. in Counseling, as a fiction writer, as a school counselor developing curriculum. I have researched and talked about how the way boys bully differs from the way girls bully, how this behavior changes with age and maturity, I have worked with colleagues to develop methods for discussing and punishing the new-ish phenomenon of cyber-bullying, which so often happens off of school grounds. But this is something all new and asks us all tore-examine the way we communicate.

What about this? What about bullying for fame and recognition? This is something that parents and educators alone can only begin to discuss—this poses a question and brings to light an issue that is so much bigger than all of us. There is something very wrong. I know that by writing on this blog, by talking in person, by posting comments and hosting real roundtables and initiating conversations we can only start. But it is the way we use ever-changing technology that needs to be addressed. It is part of education now. It has to be.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A girl can't help it

When I was first writing PERMANENT INK my friend Jenny read the first few pages. Then she sent me this article. Do you know this guy? she said. I think you have a crush on him.

I'd never heard of him. But I think she was right.

We all have our weak spots. We have a type. We do. We might want to argue otherwise but, well, I just can't help it. I love cooks.

They're supremely undateable. They work 362 days a year and a short day is 10 hours. Their hands look like battelgrounds. Their fingernails can never really get clean. Their forearms are scarred and burned and blistered. They come alive at 2 in the morning. They have a little too much fun. They smell like mussels and fried spinach and garlic and rosemary and burned sugar all at once. They flirt with waitresses and wine reps and customers and bartenders and your best friends. They live for anxiety and heat. Their apartments have no furniture and empty refrigerators and they rarely do laundry. When they do, they send it out and the bag the laundromat returns, with their shirts neatly folded, serves as a closet.

O man, I love cooks. I just read this book. And then this article. All I want to do is read about chefs. And I feel giddy. Because the thing is, in spite of (or in addition to, depending on how you look at it) all of the details I just mentioned, they are the best kind of artists. Because their food means everything to them. They live and breathe it. They don't have time for anything else. They don't have time for the scene or the image or the competition. They are just imagining the food. And then preparing it. They shape it and grill it and saute it and taste it and hate it and revere it. Then they FEED you. Come on. Looking at a painting is nice. A great song can make you cry. A poem can send chills across your shoulder blades. A novel can make you take deep breaths in awe. But a fantastic meal. There's nothing like it.

So today I keep re-writing the meal that Parker cooks because, well, there are so many possibilities.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Writing in a Bubble

I have to admit something. I get very jealous sometimes. I am a member of some wonderful groups for Debut YA writers and we talk a lot about the biggest and the littlest details of publishing a first novel. But it's little phrases like "my Crit partners said..." or "my genius husband suggested..." or "my darling partner thought I could..." that make me look sheepishly around me for someone to comment on my manuscript. It seems I'm the rare writer without crit partners (romantic or otherwise!) to guide me through revisions and sometimes, no matter how independent a writer you might be, reading aloud to an empty room does not bring new ideas about.

So this morning, H-- who has piles of essays to grade, an amazing daughter in need of mommy time and is preparing to move (read, clearly has nothing else to do) commanded that I meet her on west 12th street for brunch and revision brainstorming.

She is a genius. We went through countless details from my manuscript that H turned upside down for me, twisted, and re-imagined. I feel clear. I feel like I am looking at a new book. She quoted lines back to me and then explained what they might mean to another reader. Oh, I thought, I never saw it that way. And I scribbled notes down furiously.

Most importantly she said, listen. You have to stop being mad at Keeley.

My god, I said. It's true. I AM mad at Keeley. I didn't know you could be mad at one of your very own characters. But I am. And that means I really kicked her out of the end of the book. And she deserves to be there.

So I say, don't clean your bathroom or stare at your computer screen or try to write inside a bubble. Ask someone to tell you the truth about a few of your words. You might find out you're really really mad at your characters and you need to work this out.

And just because.


Did we really look like this once?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A little bit of hero worship

I have been thinking about what to write here for a long time. Twelve days maybe? I am not completely sure what I'm meant to accomplish with this blog. Do you read it? Do you care? Does it have anything to do with this book I am trying to finish revising so it can be published next spring? Am I making inroads into the prolific and well-connected online world of YA writers, booksellers, librarians et al... the answer to most of these questions is a quietly whispered no. But I'm trying...

So let me tell you about Migi. This is Migi. Yes, she is wearing an American flag on her head in the center of Rome the night the U.S. beat Italy in the World Cup playoffs. But she is Albanian and she is Migi. So she got away with this.



She graduated from La Sapienza last week. She studied organizational psychology and worked, for most of the last year, in a shelter for victims of domestic violence, while she completed the research for and wrote her thesis on the consequences that domestic violence have on women's physical and psychological well-being. Migi speaks and writes with fierce passion and great candor (and does so in no less than three languages, quite fluently). Her thesis is written in Italian which makes me a little crazy because I can't read it. But I can take depths of inspiration from her. For most of the time I've known Migi she's been studying. And she's been dedicated with a kind of force and tenacity I've rarely seen. And it was a few months into her job at the shelter, her careful and pointed observations and interviews, that she found the topic about which she would write, that it all came together. She lives in the world and writes from the inside out. And though she's not writing stories, not fictional stories like I am, I want to take something from the way she lives and observes.

Migi included me in the dedication of her thesis. So this humble post is dedicated to her. She's a hero.